“While the push for alternatives is important, we must also be mindful that efforts to rapidly promote alternatives could have a chilling effect on investment in the oil sector.”
— Speaking on “Achieving Energy Stability in Uncertain Times” at a conference in Houston, February 2009
The athletic looking man had just finished a run. But he appeared calm even as he fielded questions from frenetic reporters. Saudi Arabian Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi is not one to get ruffled easily. After all, he is arguably in control of the world’s oil spigot.
Yet, despite being perched in this position, al-Naimi has purportedly always been the highly humble man. Born Ali bin Ibrahim Al-Naimi in a poor Shiite Muslim family in Saudi Arabia, al-Naimi grew up tending his father’s flock of sheep. At the age of 12, he started working as an office boy for the largest state-owned oil producing company in the world, Saudi Aramco. Later, his passion for learning caught the eye of an American company executive who recommended that al-Naimi be sponsored for proper schooling. After graduating from Lehigh University, al-Naimi went on to earn a graduate degree from Stanford. And his rise in the corporate world was equally meteoric. Soon, al-Naimi had enough political clout to be named the Saudi Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources in 1995.
Saudi Arabia’s role in OPEC is that of a natural leader, since it is the largest oil producer of OPEC and the world’s largest exporter of oil with a reserve of nearly 267 billion barrels of oil. In the recent Group of Eight energy meet in Rome, al-Naimi said that OPEC would maintain a long-term focus, “rather than being swayed by the volatility of short-term conditions.”
After remarking last week that the “market is in good shape (and) recovery is under way,” al-Naimi sent crude oil prices rocketing towards their biggest monthly gain in over a decade, a 28% jump in May. He went on to remark that the U.S. dollar had weakened, pushing up demand for commodities, and the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) had opted to maintain its output targets. He has predicted that oil might rise to $75 a barrel by the third or fourth quarter of 2009.
Currently, oil prices are flirting with $66 a barrel, a six-month high, but still below that $75 mark producers say is needed to spur on investment. It appears that al-Naimi will have to wrestle with low oil prices for some time. But that is not his only problem. He is also trying to fend off U.S. President Barack, whose aggressive push towards renewable energy resources, is nipping at his heels.
But it seems that al-Naimi, even at 74, is equal to the task. A man of interminable energy, he keeps up a routine of running that can leave most of his peers or even the young far behind. To battle the West’s desire to be untethered from OPEC’s grasp, he will need both a nimble mind and body.
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